A few weeks ago Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat film was released to the world and pretty much everyone loved it. Metacritic collated all the reviews and came to the conclusion that the whole enterprise deserved 89/100 and described this as ‘Universal Acclaim’. Here is a sample from some of the reviews:
Washington Post: The result is a perfect combination of slapstick and satire, a Platonic ideal of high-and lowbrow that manages to appeal to our basest common denominators while brilliantly skewering racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and that peculiarly American affliction: we’re-number-one-ism
New York Daily News: Though Borat has been likened to “Jackass,” there’s a huge difference. The “Jackass” movies are about extreme stunts. Borat is about interaction and gullibility, and its success is unique to both Cohen and to this one-time-only movie.
Village Voice: Indeed, the man who invented Borat is a masterful improviser, brilliant comedian, courageous political satirist, and genuinely experimental film artist. Borat makes you laugh but Baron Cohen forces you to think.
So it was with this in mind that I went to see the film with my little brother and all I can say in response is what the hell film were they watching?! There are some very funny bits in it, and some very scary bits as well, but they were heavily overwhelmed by clumsy shit jokes, big testicles and fat naked people running around.
There are at least two things I don’t understand about this film. Firstly, I don’t understand the reviews. I don’t understand how anyone can look at that film in its totality and describe it as a cerebral job of political satire that forces you to think. There are chunks of it that I adored (although even then they were often aimed at pretty easy targets), but most of the movie is twelve-year-old stuff. It’s little bags full of shit, bigger bags of pubic hair and general confusion about how to use lavatories. Make no mistakemuch of this film is aimed squarely at humour that ten year olds would be quite comfortable with.
And that brings me to the second thing I don’t understand. Given that there are occasionally such brilliant bits of insight and satire in the film, I cannot understand why they put all this crap in it as well. The only conclusion I’ve managed to reach is that the film-makers lost faith in the more general project, worse still that they lost faith in their audience and did not feel that their satire would stand on its own feet. So they decided to aim for the lowest of common denominators. And I can’t tell whether this is because they’re craven, cowardly and clumsy or simply because they’re not smart enough to aspire towards the really good film that they could have made instead. But either way it pisses me off.
Now I’m not a prudish man. I love the South Park Movie to bits if that counts for anything. But given the hysteria around the film I really thought someone ought to stand up and say that this particular emperor is probably walking around at best half-clad. If you’re as much of a fan of cheap gross-out humour and poo jokes as you are of political satire, then I don’t doubt that you’ll find much to enjoy in Borat. But if your toes curled during Something Without Mary, just stay well away from it. I’m with the reviewer from New York magazineone of the only ones to not respond positively to the picturewhen he says:
I found the Borat feature depressing; and the paroxysms of the audience reinforced the feeling that I was watching a bearbaiting or pigsticking. Baron Cohen is such an inspired comic actor that it‚Äôs a little disappointing when he jumps so quickly, so eagerly to offend the people he interviews; it would be more fun, I think, if he gave them some room to maneuver. But then, of course, we wouldn‚Äôt squirm or cringe. And then comedy wouldn‚Äôt be evolving in the way it is nowto the point that it bleeds into horror.